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Nonclinical Roles for PAs: Michelle Lim, PA-C, Medical Science Liaison

Did you know PAs can work as Medical Science Liaisons? If you are a physician assistant (PA) looking for a nonclinical role that is clinically challenging, engages you with other medical professionals, allows travel, yet is still flexible, get comfy because we have a TON to unpack here! Michelle Lim is an amazing PA whom I connected with while in one of my favorite PA networking groups, PA Moms. She mentioned she was a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) and I’m pretty sure I blew up her Facebook Messenger… I had so many questions about what an MSL is, what they do, and how PAs fit into the profession. As I learned more, I realized many other PAs had the same questions, and so I wanted to feature her here as a PA spotlight! I’ve learned that she really has a passion for what she does, and is a great example of how PAs can fit so well into nonclinical roles. Recently, we even hosted a webinar, which was so well received, I think we are going to have to do it again. If you are interested, there is bonus content at the end of this post taken from that session. If you read this article and still have a whole page dedicated to resources for those looking into Nonclinical Roles for PAs which includes yet another webinar I hosted a while back on the subject!

The PA profession is incredibly versatile, and there are so many niches we can work in. If you are interested in learning more about this amazing nonclinical role for PAs, read on!

I realized that it was up to me to redefine my professional future and find my happiness. I guess you could say that I found the power to EMPOWER myself and try a new path.

Michelle Lim, PA-C, MSL

Tell us a little about yourself, which PA program you graduated from, when you graduated and what specialties you have practiced in prior to your current role as a PA

I grew up in the Philadelphia area and completed my undergraduate degree at Ursinus College. I moved across the country to attend PA school and graduated from what is now called Western University of Health Sciences in 1998. When I was first accepted, it was actually called College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) but before I graduated, they attained university status and changed the name to Western University of Health Sciences (WUHS). I have practiced in a variety of settings including family medicine, orthopedic surgery, medical weight loss, and cosmetic medicine. For the past 2 years, I have been on the Board of the PA Studies Advisory Board for Chapman University’s MPAS Program. I met my husband in PA school and we have 2 daughters.

Michelle Lim, PA-C graduation 1998

Where do you currently work or what type of work do you currently do?

For the past 5 years I have been working as a Medical Science Liaison in the Bio-Pharmaceutical Industry. I started my career with AstraZeneca in their Diabetes division, then transferred over to their Respiratory Division where among other things, I helped support the successful launch of a brand new biologic for Eosinophilic Asthma. I transitioned over to my current company in August 2018 where I now support a novel vasopressor for La Jolla Pharmaceuticals.

From Left to Right: Megan O’Neill, Chris Sadler, Elizabeth Micielli, Michelle Lim, Joe Largay, Maria O’Connor, Carolyn Telford

How did you fall into this line of work?

About 7 years into my PA career, I was feeling burned out from clinical practice. In the early 2000’s there were not a lot of PA jobs in Orange County where I lived and I wanted more flexible hours, better benefits and more pay but wasn’t sure what else I do with my PA degree. After confiding in a friend who worked as a pharmaceutical rep for a pharmaceutical company, she suggested I consider a career in pharma. It had actually been my back up plan if I didn’t get accepted into PA school right out of undergrad. But since I was fortunate to get into PA school on the first try, a career in pharma never crossed my mind again. I realized that life is too short to keep working a job that I did not enjoy so I made the leap into pharma knowing that I could always return to PA practice in the future. I worked as a specialty rep for a large pharma company and it was there that I first learned about the MSL role. I saw the MSL role as the perfect marriage of my scientific clinical acumen and a job with the flexibility, benefits, and room for advancement.

So for the next 10 years off and on, I looked for a job in Medical Affairs. I used various job sites (medreps, monster, Indeed, LinkedIn) and recruiters but most MSL jobs require that you have a terminal D degree which excluded me from consideration. When the medication that I sold went generic, I took 2 years off to be a full-time stay at home mom. After my daughter turned 2 yo, I returned to work as a pharmaceutical rep for another company but after they went through an organizational restructuring I switched out of pharma and worked as a clinical liaison for a nation LTAC hospital chain.

I had a second child and after 6 months I finally returned to PA work doing medical weight loss and cosmetic medicine part-time, always with the hope that one day I could land an MSL job.

In 2014, my persistence paid off and I received a job posting for a Clinical Science Liaison position with AstraZeneca. They had created a new role, the CSL, to help increase the reach of their Medical Affairs team into the primary care world and specifically wanted clinicians (PAs and NPs) to facilitate peer to peer discussions. I credit AstraZeneca for recognizing the role that PAs play in healthcare delivery and for giving APPs a chance to prove that we are effective and well received by the thought leaders that we interact with.

Michelle Lim, PA-C

What do you believe is the best part of your current role as a Medical Science Liaison (MSL)? What is the worst part?

The best part of working as a Medical Science Liaison is the ability to affect patient care on a broader scale than in traditional 1:1 patient/provider visits.  I help healthcare providers understand the appropriate use and non-use of the medication that I support as well as solicit their feedback on challenges to treatment decisions, educational gaps, and future research needs. The flexibility in setting my own schedule, attending various medical conferences, and delivering lectures are all aspects that I really enjoy.

The worst part is the volatility and unpredictability of the industry. It is not uncommon for companies to go through sudden unexpected reorganization which can result in a change in geography, therapeutic area, managers, teams or even loss of a job. This has happened to me several times throughout my pharma career.

 I help healthcare providers understand the appropriate use and non-use of the medication that I support as well as solicit their feedback on challenges to treatment decisions, educational gaps, and future research needs.

Michelle Lim, PA-C

Do you provide direct patient care or interact with patients?

No

Do you interact with other providers?

Yes I interact with pharmacists, nurses, physicians, NPs and of course PAs.

If you don’t interact with patients or providers in your current role, do you miss working with them?

I do not miss interacting directly with patients.

What is a typical day like for you as an MSL?

There is no typical day in the life of a Medical Science Liaison. I work from home and currently manage a geography of 11 states. Luckily with virtual platforms such as WebEx I am able to provide scientific support to HCPs remotely which greatly decreases the need for travel to all 11 states.

I spend a lot of time reading journal articles to continually deepen my scientific acumen. I may meet with an HCP in person, or over the phone or virtually on a WebEx. I attend many conferences throughout the year (I think I went to 13 last year!) to network with HCPs and hear what the experts are saying about treatment guidelines, therapeutic controversies as well as to meet them in person to provide education and support.

Sometimes I serve as a promotional speaker for my sales  colleagues and other times I lead roundtable discussions for small groups of HCPs. And of course there are always administrative duties such as emails, phone calls, expense reports.

If you could do it all over again, would you do anything differently?

No. Every job I had up until this point led me to where I am now. I was able to take something away from each of my previous jobs that helps me be successful as an MSL Whether it was something clinical/scientific or networking and connections, all of it has contributed to my current skillset. The only thing I would tell my younger less experienced self is that “IT IS OK TO ADMIT YOUR UNHAPPINESS BUT ONLY YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE YOUR SITUATION”. Back in 2004 when I first left PA practice, the topic of “Burn Out” was taboo. None of my classmates felt burned out, not even my PA husband. I felt ashamed and inadequate. I asked myself, “why was I burned out already and no one else (seemingly) was?”. I realized that it was up to me to redefine my professional future and find my happiness. I guess you could say that I found the power to EMPOWER myself and try a new path.

What advice would you give to a PA who is considering working as a Medical Science Liaison?

First off…this is NOT a job for new grads. Please get out there and practice for a few years before you consider going into industry. Getting your clinical experience and exposure to the art and business of medicine is key and will make you a better Medical Science Liaison.

Most companies hire only candidates with a terminal D degree (PharmD, PhD, MD) but there are some that will consider a nonD degree applicant. The best way to increase your chances are if you have experience in a specialty or therapeutic area that matches the drug/device that you’d be supporting. If you are considered a local/regional/national thought leader in your specialty then you would be very attractive to the hiring manager as they assume you will have expertise in that therapeutic area. Likewise if you are in a surgical specialty, consider looking into the specialty equipment that you use in the OR. Oftentimes they too will have  clinical division that does training/education. Networking is key to learning about openings and to be internally referred in for consideration. Most companies give employees a referral bonus if they refer in a candidate. You will usually be guaranteed a closer look if you are internally referred in by a current employee as opposed to applying as a completely external candidate. LinkedIn is a fantastic resource for networking into the companies you are targeting.

It is very competitive to land an MSL job but do not be discouraged. It took me many years to finally land a med affairs job. I never gave up and you shouldn’t either.

It is very competitive to land an MSL job but do not be discouraged. It took me many years to finally land a med affairs job. I never gave up and you shouldn’t either.

Michelle Lim, PA-C, MSL

Are there any additional certifications needed to work as a MSL?

No

How can PAs contact you?


I want to say a huge thank you to Michelle for sharing her role as an MSL with us! She is an awesome human, and although the date of our webinar has already passed, we will plan another so stay tuned .. you can also sign up to our newsletter or follow us on Social Media (FB, IG,& Twitter) for any updates!

If you read this article and still want more information, we have a whole page dedicated to resources for those looking into Nonclinical Roles for PAs which includes yet another webinar I hosted a while back on the subject!

-C


BONUS! Excerpts from Our Webinar

PAs as Medical Science Liaisons

Want to learn more about how to become a Medical Science Liaison? At your request, here are some links Michelle mentioned in our webinar!

  • MSLS has webinars on how to become a Medical Science Liaison. Occasionally they are free to attend but usually have a cost associated with them
  • Follow MSLs on Linkedin too so they can see whenever they are offering online training.
  • Organize your Linkedin profile

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Courtney
Physician Assistant, Owner and Blogger at EmpoweredPAs.com. Currently practicing in a Pediatric Emergency Department, overseeing and developing evidence-based clinical practice guidelines with teams of amazing people, supporting and mentoring Pre-PA and PA Students, with a hope to advance our profession and give PAs the tools and resouces they need to advance their careers.